St. Thomas of Great Faith

Praise the Lord, who rescues us from our enemies (Ps. 29:2). “Sing psalms to the Lord, you who love him, give thanks to his holy name” (29:5). The maker of all things makes all things new, puts all things to right, turns all things to face him.

  • Sickness he turns into health (29:3)
  • Death he turns into life (29:4).
  • Tears he turns into joy (29:6).
  • Mourning he turns into dancing (29:12).
  • He removes our sackcloth and clothes us with joy (29:12).
  • He takes away fear and grants us peace.[i]
  • And today, he turns doubt into faith.
  • “The lack of faith gives birth to a certainty of faith.”[ii]

Thomas doubts the word of his fellow apostles when they tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” He says that unless he also sees, he will not believe it. Let us not imitate Thomas in this moment, for “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Yet, eight days later, on this day, the eighth day of Pascha, Thomas also sees the Lord, who appears among them again in the upper room even though the doors are locked. Jesus says to Thomas, offering himself and his wounds to be touched and probed, “Do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27).

And upon seeing the risen Lord and hearing this, Thomas makes his statement of great faith: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas, if you will notice, is the first person in the gospels – perhaps the first person on this earth – to call Jesus “God” in so direct and unadorned a way.

 

By the grace of God, “Doubting Thomas” becomes Thomas of Great Faith.

Thomas is the first one bold enough to call Jesus, “God,” but he is not the last. The other apostles, led by Thomas, also begin to call Jesus “God.”

John is clear that Jesus is God. It is John alone who records this episode with Thomas. And, it was John who told us all last Sunday on Pascha, that Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and that the Word was in the beginning with God and that the Word was God.

At the Last Supper, “John leaned on the bosom of the Word” and today Thomas touches his side. “The first discovered the depth of theology,” and the other reveals “the mystery of Christ’s resurrection, saying, ‘My Lord and my God.’”[iii] To touch the body of Christ is to touch God and those who do so lovingly come away with an unshakeable faith in him and knowledge of his divinity.

Peter, who was also in that upper room and heard what Thomas said, addresses his second epistle “To those who have obtained a faith… in… our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:1). It seems that perhaps even the faith of Peter, whose faith made it possible for him to become the rock upon which Jesus builds his Church,[iv] is inspired by the faith of Thomas, whom we often call a doubter.

The Lord Jesus can and does take the least and makes of that one the greatest. So, the one apostle who doubts the resurrection most of all, becomes the one whose faith inspires us all.

We all echo Thomas, in a sense, at every Divine Liturgy and at every Compline when we chant the Symbol of Faith and say that Jesus Christ is “true God from true God.” Through this doubter, the Lord reveals to us more plainly than through any other the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Thomas cuts to the chase. Seeing his risen Lord, and seeing the still-present wounds in his body, he cries out, “My Lord and my God.” He sees his God before him… and he believes and he worships him.

But isn’t it remarkable which proofs convince Thomas? Which proofs he demanded? Thomas doesn’t simply want to see that Jesus lives again. He doesn’t simply want to see him and hear him again – or to embrace him. He wants to see and touch the wounds of Jesus. The marks of his death. “He said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (20:25). These are proofs not only that Jesus is living, but that he has died. And it is these marks of his death that convince Thomas, not only of the resurrection, but also of the divinity of the risen one.

This is somewhat confounding, because God does not die – that is, the immutable divine nature does not experience death – and, yet, in looking at and touching the marks of death upon his risen and living Lord, Thomas sees his Lord and his God. And I call that an act of great faith. He sees God in his humanity, which does die. But when divinized humanity dies, it rises again and reveals its divinity to Thomas and to all those who have faith and cry out with him, “My Lord and my God.”

Our Lord and our God has done everything for us – gone everywhere, endured everything. He has made all things new. Touching the body of Christ and the marks of death, Thomas touches the life of all. Beholding the living man, Thomas sees God.

God is with us, and we must learn to see him with the eyes of faith in our lives and in one another. When we see the wounded, let us realize we are seeing God, as Thomas saw God in the wounded Christ. Let us recognize each other as the same body of Christ that Thomas touches. When we see the sick, the mournful, the depressed, the downtrodden, the fearful, and the doubtful – or when we ourselves endure these things – let us remember Thomas and see God, who is in the midst of us bringing us healing, joy, love, peace, and faith.

Jesus breaks into every dark place – he enters even though the doors are locked – and fills all things with light, for he is “our Light, our Resurrection, and our peace.”[v]

Nothing will keep the Lord away from us. He did not deem Thomas unworthy for his lack of faith, but “confirmed his faith by showing him [his] pure side and the wounds in [his] hands and feet. He touched them, and when he saw [Jesus], he confessed [Jesus] to be neither an abstract God nor merely human, [but], ‘My Lord and my God.’”[vi] He is the God who is personally with us, who loves us beyond all reason or expectation and who will do anything – whatever is necessary to reach us and unite us to himself. We are not abandoned. He is with us even in our abandonment – abandoned with us. Even the one place we think is defined by his absence – the darkest, deepest recess in hell – he’s there too. He has broken the gates of hell and gone through the doors we locked.

Now, the only thing that can separate me from God is me. We can still reject him and push him away because we are still free. But rather than allowing anything that we suffer to drive us away from God, let us be faithful and realize that mysteriously God is there with us in the midst of everything. With Thomas, let us see divinity even in the marks of death – even in our crosses. With Thomas of great faith, let us cry out, My Lord and my God!

***

[i] “Although the doors were closed he appeared to his disciples [and] took away their fear and granted them peace” (Stichera of Thomas Sunday).

[ii] Aposticha of Thomas Sunday

[iii] Aposticha of Thomas Sunday

[iv] Matt 16. John Meyendorff, ed., The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir, 1992), 70.

[v] Stichera of Thomas Sunday.

[vi] Stichera of Thomas Sunday

Fr. John R.P. Russell

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Fr. John R.P. Russell is a husband, a father of four, a priest for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma, and a painter particularly influenced by abstract expressionism and iconography. He has an M.Div. from the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and a B.A. in art with a minor in religion from Wabash College. He blogs here: http://holydormition.blogspot.com/. Some of his paintings can be seen here: https://paintingprosopa.blogspot.com/

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